Former Minister of State for Labour Affairs and Public Service Transformation of the Republic of Ireland; Member of Parliament, Fianna Fáil, House of Representatives, National Parliament of the Republic of Ireland, Dublin
|Open Government-Transparency as a Democratic Opportunity|
I would like to thank the organisers of the forum for your invitation to address this seminar on Open Government-Transparency as a Democratic Opportunity.
I will obviously use many Irish examples however the formal definitions of this concept are UK or US based. As Minister with responsibility for Public Service Transformation in Ireland from 2010-March of this year I developed a particular interest in this whole area.
It is my personal perspective that one of the causes of the financial criris that is hitting not just Ireland but the world has been the culture of secrecy traditionally associated with government. A culture that was built and developed in different times, often in times of war, has not evolved to reflect the transformation of our society in the past 20 years, the transformation of educational attainment and the associated expectations that come with that, it has not evolved to reflect the developments in IT and how it can be used to involved citizens more in day to day decisions.
This economic crisis is testing democracies all over the world. Democracy is strengthened by participation.
We have not had public protests in Ireland along the scale of those in Greece. However we had a general election in February which has been dubbed the pencil revolution . People vented their frustrations on the political process, particularly on my party and in doing so have strengthened democracy in Ireland. The challenge for our new government is to respond to that challenge.
What is Open Government?
There are many different definitions.
From A Glossary of UK Government and Politics
The relatively unconstrained flow of information about government to the general public, the media and representative bodies. Open government is relative, not absolute.
From The Blackwell Dictionary of Political Science
Government whose policy-making and decisions are open to inspection at any time.
From a less likely source but maybe closer to the real the real politique from the fictional BBC Series Yes Minister In the words of Sir Humphrey Appleby the permanent secretary-
Open government is a contradiction in terms. You can be open, or you can have government .
The challenge of balance
Proponents of greater freedom suggest that some relaxation of the tight controls on the supply of information would benefit good government. Excessive secrecy is said to undermine faith in the authority and fairness of government, fuelling suspicions that there is much inefficiency, waste or corruption going on behind the scenes. The more policies and their implications are fully unveiled and debated, the more likelihood there is of good decisions being made. Moreover, greater openness would act as a restraint upon ministers and officials, who would learn their decisions have to be capable of convincing justification.
Opponents believe that open government makes government more difficult to conduct, slowing down decision-making. Furthermore, to reveal documents or evidence that provided honest and candid advice for ministers would be against the public interest, discouraging officials from speaking freely.
The challenge is to square this circle.
Ireland and Open Government:
Various pieces of legislation have improved public access to information in Ireland in recent years. There have also been some restricting legalisation inserted.
The Data Protection Act 1988 gave individuals more control over their personal data held by public bodies.
The Freedom of Information Act 1997 also made it clear that individuals can access personal information held by public bodies and correct any errors. In addition the legislation allowed for non-personal information requests to be made, which had the potential to give people access to information about policy-making.
The Freedom of Information Act 2003 introduced fees for non-personal requests and also reduced the scope for the release of information relevant to policy, as it made certain categories of information automatically exempt, which had been previously available ( such as advice given to Ministers). However this has generally seen as been a restive piece of legislation in the context of the 2003 act. The new government are proposing an effective repeal of this act and a very wide extension of the 1997 act to ensure that more public bodies are included within it.
The Access to Information on the Enviroment Regulations in Ireland derive from a 2003 European Directive and grant access to information relevant to the environment that is held by any public body. While less well known that Freedom of Information, these regulations are important, as they affect all public bodies, wereh many public bodies ( such as the Central Bank, Gardai, NTMA, NAMA) and others do not come under the FOI Act.
In 1997 the notion of cabinet confidentiality was enshrined in the constitution. This is seen by many as restrictive to open government however is judged by others as essential for effective government.
In addition to legislation there are a number of practical initiatives designed to improve the citizens interaction with government
The onegov.ie website was set up to keep people abreast of important developments across the Public Service.
As part of the reform of the public service the initiative has been mainstreamed, whilst the website is now http://per.gov.ie/ which is the website for the new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform the OneGov newsletters are available on this website http://per.gov.ie/onegov-newsletter/
Taoiseachs (Prime Ministers)Awards
The Awards were first launched in 2004 and are held every two years to recognise
and reward examples of excellence in the delivery of public services and/or
administration, by public servants. The purpose of the Awards is to seek
out improvements and innovative activities from the Public Service
Applications are invited from public servants who have initiated or designed
one or more of the following:
" Improvement to services delivered to the citizen and business customers,
including through engagement with customers;
" Innovative and creative activities, through flexibility, teamwork,cross-organisational co-operation and eGovernment;
" Increased effectiveness and efficiency, including better use
of resources, business process improvement and shared services.
The Fingal Open Data Project
Open Data is a worldwide movement which encourages government bodies to make official data freely available to the public in an open format.
Fingal County Council is leading the way in Ireland , with Fingal Open Data Website, which is the first of its kind in the country and is based on the principles of Freedom of Information and the Reuse of Public Sector Information.
" This website releases useful information relating to Fingal, to be freely used by the wider community, and builds on the work of the Fingal Data Hub which was established to enable data sharing in relation to Fingal between nine partner agencies.
" There are four main objectives for Fingal Open Data:
Transparency access to the data used by officials in making decisions.
Participation citizens can use the data to analyse issues, propose new ideas and to enrich their lives and their community.
Collaboration data from different public sector agencies can be combined to facilitate collaboration.
Economic Opportunities data can be used as the basis for online services, mobile applications, analytics, etc.
To date 70 datasets have been published in 12 categories, allowing a range of applications to be built. Already Fingal s data has been used to provide location and contact details for such disparate services as polling stations, burial grounds and disabled parking spots, as well as allowing easy access to Fingal County Council reports and statistics, including allowances and expenses. The intention is that software developers will continue to identify and build many more useful apps.
The US example-President Obama and open government:
Upon becoming president Obama ushered in what he called a new era of open and accountable government.
On his first day in Office, President Obama signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. The White House website announced the initiative in the following way-
For too long, the American people have experienced a culture of secrecy in Washington, where information is locked up, taxpayer dollars disappear without a trace, and lobbyists wield undue influence. For Americans, business as usual in Washington has reinforced the belief that the government benefits the special interests and the well connected at the expense of the American people. But President Obama committed to change the way Washington works. And he has begun to do just that .
The specifics included
" New ethics rules that prevent lobbyists from coming to work in government or sitting on its advisory boards.
" Websites like recovery.gov, USASpending.gov, and IT.usaspending.gov. show where the government is spending money
" On December 8, 2009, the White House issued an Open Government Directive requiring federal agencies to take immediate, specific steps to achieve key milestones in transparency, participation, and collaboration.
The challenge for the President since then has been to match the expectations created by this announcement to the realities of government. We ll get a sense of how he has met that challenge next year when he stands for re-election.
The Irish Economic Crisis and reforming government
Since 2008 Ireland has been hit by a perfect economic storm. A domestically over heated property market burst, our banking system failed and as one of the most open economies in the word we were especially affected by the Worldwide economic downturn. The net result is that our GDP has declined by about 15% since the final quarter of 2007.
This in turn has forced us to cut pay rates of those in the public service, to cut welfare rates for those on welfare payment to cut spending significantly in every area of government and to increase personal taxation for everyone.
As you can imagine, we have a very angry and worried public as a result. They are demanding changes both to the political system and to the system of governance to ensure this doesn t happen again and we as politicians must respond.
In 2010 I was appointed to the Department of An Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and to the Department of Finance & Public Service as a junior minister in both departments to drive the transformation of the Irish Public Service.
The immediate priority was to restore industrial peace to our public and civil service. Decisions taken in response to the crisis had provoked strike action during 2009.
The Croke Park Agreement named after the venue in which it was negotiated) committed the 300,000 who work in the Irish Public & Civil Service to a vast number of organisational changes, many of which will open up government and make it more accessible to our citizens.
This programme has delivered signicant financial savings as well as changing the delivery of services across the country.
The recent election saw a focus on expanding that transformation in tot every area of government and for the first time, reform of the public service emerged as an issue in an Irish General Election. The new government has made a series of commitments in this area, many of which I and my party support.
The key commitments include-
" The establishment of a new department The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform-linking reform to expenditure thereby ensuring that reform will no longer be an AOB item.
" The appointment of a politically experienced and widely respected minister to head this department along with civil servants with private and public sector experiences
" A Whistleblowers Act to protect public servants that expose maladministration by Ministers or others, and restore Freedom of Information.
" Ensuring that the TLAC (Top level Appointments Commission), which makes senior appointments in the public service has its chairperson and the majority of members drawn from outside the public sector
" Each Department will be required to carry out and publish Regulatory Impact Assessments (RIAs) before Government decisions are taken.
This has been described by the new government as the most ambitious whole of Government reform initiative ever contemplated in the history of the State.
The new minister in introducing the department further commented that
The scale of the crisis and financial burden placed by the unaccountable few on the majority of our citizens demands no less.
Even I as an opposition deputy fully subscribe to that view. For me the reform of our public service and political system in the 21st century is as important to Ireland as the peace process of the last century.
In addition to reforms mentioned previously there are a further two reforms that will be of particular interest to this debate.
.The government will extend the powers of the Ombudsman to cover new bodies which are outside the remit of the Ombudsman. This means that the administrative actions of many more public bodies, that were previously not subject to investigation by the Ombudsman, will be open to impartial and independent scrutiny.
The Government provides are committed to an amendment of the rules to ensure that no senior public servant (including political appointees) or Minister can work in the private sector in any area involving a potential conflict of interest with their former area of public employment, until at least two years have elapsed after they have left the public service.
Squaring the Circle
I spoke previously about the challenge of squaring the circle. Ensuring effective governance whilst at the same time ensuring the maximum participation of citizens.
We all agree that public access to information is a vital part of democratic rule. Democracy is fundamentally weakened if citizens do have reliable, easy access to information about how the decisions taken by those running their country and what reasons are given for the decisions made by those governments
In Ireland our constitution recognises that individual citizens have personal rights.
People have a right to be active participants in decision making. Public information is an important part of the checks and balances in a democratic state. When public representatives, civil society organisations and ordinary cititzens can access official records ,they are in a position to see for themselves what is being done with public money and what evidence there is for efficiency and effectiveness. In a real sense, access to information is power and open government requires that central government gives up power to conceal facts, repress reports and generally hid behind it failings behind a wall of secrecy
Open government presents a challenge to our politicians and public servants, but it is not a threat. It is also not an optional extra.
However the most important challenge for open Government is not secrecy versus transparency, but figuring out how much transparency and what type, to have over different aspects of the governmental process. It is my view that those suggest that transparency can cure all that ails public policy, raise public expectations of a much too extreme openness.
Transparency at its best involves citizens in the decision making process but doesn t give them a veto over the common good, it ensures that affected parties can have constructive input in to government but not at the expense of progress in the interests of a nation.
Transparency is a democratic opportunity certainly but there are other such opportunities, all of which benefit citizens. The challenge for practitioners is to ensure we square the circle.
Mitglied des Vorstandes, Open Government Data Austria; Managing Director, Semantic Web Company GmbH, Wien
|Open Government Data als Maßnahme für die digitale Infrastruktur in Europa|
Open Government ist spätestens seit der 'Transparency Directive' von US Präsident Barack Obama kurz nach seinem
Amtsantritt im Bereich eGovernment ein weltweit bedeutendes Thema geworden. Hier wird eine moderne Zusammenarbeit von
Politik, Verwaltung, Zivilgesellschaft und Wirtschaft postuliert, mit den Zielen, Transparenz zu fördern, sowie
Partizipation und Kollaboration zu ermöglichen.
Ein wichtiger Teilbereich von Open Government ist Open Government Data - die Bereitstellung von nicht personenbezogenen Daten
öffentlicher Stellen in menschen- und maschinenlesbaren, offenen Formaten für eine möglichst breite Wiederverwendung durch
Zivilgesellschaft und Wirtschaft, aber auch die öffentliche Hand selbst!
Open (Government) Data hat sich als weltweites Movement, ausgehend von den USA, Australien oder Großbritannien in den letzten 1,5 Jahren zu einem wichtigen Zukunftsfaktor für Verwaltung und Witschaft in Europa, im Sinne der Idee der europäischen Wissensgesellschaft, entwickelt.
Wie beispielsweise ein Elektrizitätsnetz oder ein Straßensystem kann Open Government Data als Maßnahme für die (digitale) Infrastruktureines Landes bzw. Europas betrachtet werden - dies sieht man in den sich rasch entwickelnden OGD Strategien und Umsetzungen von Open Data in Europa - wie zB in UK, den Niederlanden, Norwegen, Frankreich, der europäischen Kommission oder mittlerweile auch Österreich (Cooperation OGD Österreich, 1. OGD2011 Konferenz im Juni 2011, Datenportale der Städte Wien und Linz et al.)
Neben den oben genannten Auswirkungen von OGD wie Transparenz, Zusammenarbeit und Beteiligung gibt es auch eine bedeutende wirtschaftliche Komponente.McKinsey beispielsweise nennt Daten im Report 'Big Data' vom Mai 2011 (http://www.mckinsey.com/mgi/publications/big_data/) als 3. Produktions-/Wirtschaftsfaktor neben Arbeit und kapital und postuliert für die Verwaltung in Europa, bei einem effizienten Einsatz von Daten, ein Sparpotential von über 100 Milliarden Euro.
Bei diesen wirtschaftlichen Auswirkungen handelt es sich um direkte wirtschaftliche Auswirkungen, wie Steuereinnahmen, Unternehmensgründungen und Umsatzsteigerungen etc., sowie indirekte wirtschaftliche Auswirkungen, wie Beschäftigung oder Einsparungen in Bereichen wie beispielsweise dem Gesundheitssystem et al.
Im Rahmen des Projektes OGD2011 wurden folgende 3 Bereiche der wirtschaftlichen Nutzung von offenen Regierungsdaten identifiziert:
a) Datenverlage und Veredler von Daten: Unternehmen bereiten und veredeln öffentliche Daten und verkaufen diese an Unternehmen oder auch Bürger/innen, beispielsweise im Geodatenbereich oder Rechtsbereich. Weiterführend gibt es die Anreicherung von redaktionellen Inhalten durch die Datenbestände der öffentlichen Verwaltung. aber auch die Anreicherung von Daten mit zusätzlichen Metadaten, sowie die Konvertierung von Daten in zusätzliche Formate oder als in Kontext gesetzte verlinkte Daten.
b) Datenintegratoren: Das ist die Integration von öffentlichen Datenbeständen mit firmeninternen Daten mit dem Ziel der besseren Grundlage für Entscheidungsfindung. Stichworte hierbei sind Market Intelligence, Marketing Intelligence, Business Intelligence, Data Warehouse und Wissensmangement.
c) Web 2.0, Social Software und Kreativwirtschaft: Erstellung von Anwendungen für mobile Endgeräte oder Internetapplikationen sowie neuen Webservices, basierend auf offenen Regierungsdaten. Diese werden entweder direkt in (App) Stores oder indirekt über Werberträger oder nachgeschaltete Serviceangebote vertrieben bzw. finanziert.
Betrachtet man die hier genannten Zahlen und Faktoren, wird klar, welche Potentiale Open Government Data für Europas Wirtschaft bietet - diese Schätzezu heben und zu nutzen kann nur auf Basis einer entsprechenden nationalen bzw. Europaweiten digitalen Infrastruktur effizient gelingen - daher ist OGD als eine solche digitale Infrastrukturmaßnahme zu betrachten!